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The Doctor Is In: Part 1

October 20, 2011

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Counseling and Physiology Class: Post 1

(NOTE: This is Part 1 of a 7-part series by Mike Emlet, M.D. You can read the whole series by visiting The Doctor Is In on CCEF's website.)

I recently started teaching my fall class, Counseling and Physiology, and I decided to do a brief reflection after each class, starting this week. This class explores the practical implications of the fact that we are body-spirit image bearers and therefore need to consider both aspects of our personhood carefully as we minister to others.

Today I divided the class into two sides and asked them to debate the question, “Can our bodies make us sin?” (This is the closest a seminary classroom can get to a Bud Light commercial: “Tastes Great!” vs. “Less Filling!”)

Here’s what the “NO!” side of the room came up with:

  • Romans 1:18ff focuses on the fact that sinners actively choose evil (See also James 1:14-15)
  • The Bible speaks of the body as weak, dependent, and limited, but never as sinful (see Ed Welch’s Blame it on the Brain).
  • The body is the context of temptation but it is not the source of temptation or sin.
  • Mark 7:20-22 points to the heart as the source of evil/uncleanness.
  • Col 3:10 speaks about the inner renewal that comes through Christ.
  • If you allow the body to have the final say when it comes to sin, you set aside responsibility.

Here’s what the “YES!” side of the room came up with:

  • The Fall is holistic—it involves the body as well as the spirit. Therefore, why couldn’t bodily weakness, if severe enough, lead to sin?
  • It fits our experience that something more than active, intentional volition is involved in certain situations—e.g. chemical dependence/withdrawal.
  • There are automatic responses of the body that can occur as a result of trauma such as sexual abuse.
  • There is provision in Scripture for unintentional sin—e.g. the early chapters of Leviticus (i.e. not all sin is active and premeditated.)
  • Even if the body causes us to sin, we can’t evade the responsibility question, because we still live before God.

So—what do you think? Can the physical, material aspect of our personhood initiate sin or, at most, can our bodies influence or pressure us when it comes to a sinful response? And—what difference does it make, practically speaking?

The Doctor Is In Complete Series